24th April 2023

Wiltshire Music Centre Jazz Programme

Cassie Tait, Head of Creative Learning at Wiltshire Music Centre writes about their succesful Jazz work

“WYJO [Wiltshire Youth Jazz Orchestra] represents a formative experience, and ultimately, without it I would never have followed the path I have chosen, pursuing jazz as a career.” 

Thomas, WYJO member & WJA mentor

Our jazz programme – which includes both Wiltshire Jazz Academy (WJA) and Wiltshire Youth Jazz Orchestra (WYJO) – is an essential progression route for aspiring young jazz musicians across the South West which includes Bristol, Swindon, Salisbury and further afield. We support young people aged 12 and upwards, from their first steps into jazz to starting out on their future musical careers.

So how does it work? Students from approximately grade 4+ standard can join Wiltshire Jazz Academy (WJA), our monthly Saturday ensemble, which gives them experience in jazz improvisation, ensemble skills and performance.  It also equips them with the skills and confidence to join WYJO, our big band that works with leading jazz soloists and educators. Recent guests include Huw Warren, Nikki Iles and Jason Yarde. Our guest artists are not just exemplary musicians, but skilled educators and composers too, most often teaching at leading conservatoires.

Central to the success of the WMC Jazz programme is Mike Daniels, leader of WYJO for 20 years and founder of the Academy. Mike identified the gap in provision for young jazz musicians to develop skills in improvisation, aural learning and to ‘learn to sound like jazz musicians’. Forming WJA in 2017 and becoming one of the first NYJO Regional Academies in 2018 has been key in developing the WMC jazz programme and in improving standards of educational delivery. 

“This group [WJA] was invaluable to where I am now. In these sessions the focus was learning tunes and improvising, Mike teaches everyone in the group completely aurally and this method is probably the biggest reason I’ve improved so much: I doubt I would have known to learn aurally independently.”  

Nat Evans, WYJO member & WJA trainee tutor

Peer learning and mentorship is at the heart of Mike Daniel’s approach.  He has welcomed the opportunity to work with Rod Oughton, NYJO Ambassador and percussionist, who is now a regular member of the WJA tutor team.  Rod has given the group a great deal of additional support, perspective and knowledge as a young professional jazz musician.  Mike has also valued the opportunity to develop his own teaching from leading NYJO practitioners like Simon Purcell and Mark Armstrong, as well as the many WYJO guest artists, and now encourages our senior WYJO members to mentor and lead Academy sessions.

WYJO gives young musicians the invaluable experience of rehearsing and performing with jazz professionals, being exposed to new perspectives and career paths, and to build connections for the future.  Our recent Spring course featured Jason Rebello and Tim Garland, with challenging repertoire covering a range of skills, rhythmic demand and tight teamwork.

“Tim was an inspiring tutor, constantly looking to encourage experimenting with our sound and discovery. I was fortunate enough to play a duet with Tim in our final concert, an experience I’ll never forget.”

Thomas, WYJO member & WJA mentor

Many of our musicians have said that the opportunities we provide, both through our regular sessions and courses, are hard to find elsewhere, and that it has been a vital part of their jazz education.  We are very proud to have played a part in the journey of nine members of WYJO now either studying, or preparing to study, jazz at Conservatoires across the UK, including Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Leeds College of Music, and Trinity College, London. 

“I mainly felt privileged to be around so many strong young musicians. There weren’t any other jazz opportunities available to me, so seeing the senior members playing so well was probably the most motivating thing for me.”

Nat Evans, WYJO member & WJA trainee tutor now studying jazz at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Looking forward, WMC want to welcome and support more young musicians keen to explore jazz, providing extra support to those who may find our offer harder to reach.  We want to make closer links to other jazz providers in our area, to collaborate and share good practice and help jazz to thrive in the South West.  In Autumn 2023, WYJO will work with Steve Banks, jazz guitarist and composer, premiering our commissioned arrangement of his recent work ‘Emboldened’ for big band, as well as showcasing new compositions and arrangements by two of our WYJO members. Wiltshire Jazz Academy continues to grow, and regularly perform at WMC and local events.  You can catch them at Walcot Methodist Chapel on 12 May at 6.45pm as part of Bath Festival’s Party in the City.

If you know a young player aged 12 – 18, interested in finding out more, please contact creativelearning@wiltshiremusic.org.uk to find out more or visit https://www.wiltshiremusic.org.uk/learn-take-part/young-people